After a long political turmoil, the country has finally embarked on a journey towards elections, although it is not yet clear whether the proposed CA election will be held in Ashad or Mangshir. There are differences in the opinions on the possibility of holding the CA election within Ashadh and there are also differences of opinion on whether the election will be really held or not. However, taking the positive line, if the election are to be held as soon as possible (in Ashadh), there are a number of challenges the electoral process of the country is going to face. Some of these challenges are discussed in this article. With the appointment of the election commissioners, the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) will have a clear road ahead to proceed with the preparations for the forthcoming election in the country. With the presence of experienced and professional team of the election commissioners, it is now easy to hope for a fast track preparation for the elections.
There are a number of fundamental issues to be dealt with by the government and the main political actors that will have high level of impact over the election preparation, timing and logistics at large. In this context, some of the pertinent issues are: some political parties are still not ready to participate in the proposed election unless their conditions (related to formation of a national consensus government from the political parties, inclusion of the new eligible voters as per the new census data etc..); there are opinions from different sectors about holding the election for CA and Parliament as two separate entities; demands are also being raised for holding election to the local bodies at the same time. So far, the major political actors and the election government have not clearly responded to these issues but things are moving towards holding a fresh election for the CA only.
If the CA election is to be held in June (Ashadh), the following challenges will be faced by the government, ECN, political parties and the voters too. The challenges seem to be political, legal, seasonal, technical and procedural as well. Each of these challenges requires different sets of mitigation efforts by all the stakeholders of the proposed election.
On the political side, some political parties have expressed that this government is unconstitutional and undemocratic, therefore, they will not participate in this election unless a new national consensus government is formed. Some political parties are raising the issue of citizenship certificates in the Tarai region, some political parties are demanding new update of the voter's list according to the new census data (which is also interlinked with the citizenship certificate issue). There is also another school of thought that suggests holding the election for the CA and for the Parliament as two separate entities, which seems to be based on the complications that had arisen during the last CA period, mainly because of its dual nature (CA as well as Parliament). Technically, this option bears a strong logic as separate CA and Parliament will lead the country to a new political discourse in which the governance of the country and preparation of new constitution will be taken as two different sets of task and handled by two different bodies. A third school of thought being voiced by a group of political parties and intellectuals to hold elections for the local bodies at the same time so that the local governance and developmental work could be taken further. There will be some issue of logistics and resources, however, if this will be helpful to bring the country back in track of democratic norms and practices and also if it will deliver a new constitution, the cost for this should not matter. However, there are no indications of such, neither from the government nor from the political parties.
On the logistic side, holding free and fair election in a peaceful manner is always a challenge for the state actors of election. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed properly for this, such as i) the issue of sufficiency of the number of security personnel, logistics and their deployment, ii) the issue of sufficiency of 'trained election staff' to facilitate and conduct the election in timely, free and fare manner, iii) There are issues related to the legal provisions and rules related to the electoral process, registration of the political parties, handling election disputes.
The election commission act and rules, the political party registration rule, election dispute management act and rules would require various amendments to allow the ECN for a fast track action. It is expected that the government together with the election commission is working on these required amendments in the related acts, rules and procedures.
The timing of election is also becoming a subject matter of debates around election. The possibility of early monsoon, the planting season of the farmers, obstruction in movement of the political parties, candidates, election staff and voters, among other things, are expected to affect the proposed date of election in coming Ashadh, causing a low participation of the voters. If postponed for November, again harvesting period for farmers, extreme cold in high land areas, could result in lesser participation of people – that is the counter logic. Again these arguments have some validity within, however, this time if all of us are serious on bringing the country in the democratic track, we should be prepared to make some sacrifices and bear a little extra cost for this. Having said this, it will be better to hold the election as early as possible.
There are also challenges on the side of voters’ education and mobilization. The election commission is prepared to use the electric voting machines as far as possible in the coming election as part of its effort to improve the electoral process and quality of election in the country. This will require intensive voters’ education, which is a time demanding process. The mobilization of independent and effective election monitoring (both national and international) is another crucial aspect of the forthcoming election. In the situation of high level of proliferation of party workers into the national election monitoring groups the 'independency' of the national election monitors is also under criticism and questioning. The role and effectiveness of international monitors is also not different as regards these criticisms and questions mainly on the ground of their experience and effectiveness. 'Election tourism' is the term used in the case of mobilization of inexperienced group of international monitors as experienced during the last CA election in Nepal. Not reaching to the interior parts where the most election riggings occur, and loose reporting on the status of 'fair election' were some skepticisms over the nature and quality of the international monitoring during last CA election. This needs to be tackled very seriously not only by the election commission and the government but also by the bilateral and multilateral parties sending international monitors.
Compliance of election code of conduct by the government, political parties, election monitors and other actors is also one of the critical factors that affect the 'fair and free election'. Controlling the use of money, muscle, and criminal groups appears to be a great challenge for the government and election commission if intended for a 'free and fair' election.
Despite all the odds and outs; one thing is clear that if democracy in the country is to be protected, election leading towards a new constitution in Nepal is unavoidable. Therefore early election is the only solution for the country.
The growing culture of ruling the country through 'political negotiations' among the powerful political groups further derails the county form the democratic line and further political instability will be assured. The implications of the political instability in the country are tremendous not only in the process of peace building and democratization of the country but also in the social and economic front affecting the livelihood of millions of families. The misery in the life of common people is reaching an alarming stage and if people lose their patience the country will be put in a serious danger.
In the last ten years or so, the country is being run by this new culture of 'political negotiations' among larger political parties and their power driven alliances, which saw interparty disputes, intra party mistrusts, power centric split and merger of political parties. Several unconstitutional practices are leading the country towards a major political crisis and posing a severe threat to peace building and democratization of the country. The current 'election government' option is an undesired but unavoidable agreement among the political stakeholders of the country, therefore, it should not last for a long period as this is fully against the spirit of democratic principles and norms of a multi party system. Therefore, early election is the only way out from this situation. So let us put aside all the arguments that prolong the date of election, keep our vested interests aside for a while for the broader interest of the country and people.